Guide to Online Counseling Psychology Master’s Programs

Get key info about earning your master’s in counseling psychology online, including a list of top programs, specialization options, and career opportunities after graduation.

Last Updated: 12/22/2020

Do you enjoy observing relationships and analyzing group dynamics? Are you patient? A good listener? A helper? If this sounds like you, a career as a counseling psychologist could be a great fit, and a master’s degree in counseling psychology online can help you along this new career path.

Online counseling psychology master’s programs ground students with an understanding of mental health theories and principles focusing on healing and wellness. Students learn counseling techniques and strategies of prevention, intervention, and remediation to help patients develop healthy coping skills. Counseling psychologists help others to better themselves and are growing in demand. Both marriage and family therapy and rehabilitation and mental health counseling fields anticipate high growth over the next decade. School counseling is also expected to grow.

Choosing the right program can be overwhelming. This guide to online counseling psychology master’s programs walks you through the process by outlining top programs, basic admission requirements, and coursework. It also answers frequently asked questions. Read on to learn more about taking the next step in your new career.

Top Online Counseling Psychology Master’s Programs in 2021

Getting your master’s in counseling psychology online offers benefits like self-paced learning and work/life flexibility. You’ll also learn new technology skills while improving your virtual communication. Online programs also provide a unique opportunity to collaborate with other students from diverse backgrounds.

To assist in your search, below are three top online counseling psychology master’s programs. Each offers a unique combination of affordability, flexibility, and accreditation.

1

Columbia University

Columbia University

Established in 1754, Columbia University is an Ivy League member, a leading research institution, and the oldest institution of higher learning in New York state. Its four undergraduate schools and fifteen graduate schools have an enrollment of over 33,000 students.

Columbia’s online counseling psychology master’s program allows students to earn an M.Ed. degree on the school counseling track. It provides students with the coursework and training needed to obtain a school counselor’s certification in New York State. The program is registered with the New York State Education Department. Remember to research certification/licensure requirements in states where you might want to work since not every state offers reciprocal certification.

The School Counseling M.Ed. prepares students to deliver services specific to the school setting while grounding them in counseling essentials. The program requires 60 credits of coursework plus a special project. Full-time students typically complete the program within five semesters.

2

University of West Alabama

University of West Alabama

The University of West Alabama was founded in 1835 as a church-related school for ladies. The state of Alabama took control of the school in 1907, and it grew into a regional university. Today, the university serves 2,000 students online with over 50 online programs.

UWA offers online counseling psychology master’s programs with several specializations. Students can choose from an M.Ed. in School Counseling, an M.S. in Adult Continuing Education – Counseling and Psychology, an M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, an M.S. in Family Counseling, and an M.S. in Guidance and Counseling.

Many programs can be completed in 1-2 years and require between 33 and 48 credits. These programs do not prepare students for professional licensure, as there is no required fieldwork. The M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling requires 60 credits, including fieldwork, and most students complete the program in 2-3 years. The M.Ed. in School Counseling includes certification/licensure. Each specialization is taught by faculty who are licensed therapists and counselors in their respective fields.

3

California Baptist University

California Baptist University

California Baptist University was founded in 1950 and currently serves over 11,000 students. In 2018, US News and World Report ranked it as one of the Best Regional Universities. The school was created by the Southern Baptist Convention and employs a 100% Christian faculty and staff.

CBU’s master’s in counseling psychology online prepares students for careers in either marriage and family therapy or professional clinical counseling. Education is grounded in psychological science with a distinctly Christian worldview. With CBU’s education and training, graduates assess and treat individuals, couples, and families with relational difficulties. The online M.S. in Counseling Psychology currently meets licensure requirements in the State of California.

The program’s core requirements include 62 credits followed by a comprehensive written examination. Students unable to come to the CBU campus for the proctored exam must arrange to take the exam at an approved site. Students must also complete fieldwork. The Psychotherapy Requirement requires 24 hours of individual psychotherapy or 50 hours of group psychotherapy with a licensed psychotherapist. CBU offers an optional 18-hour concentration to satisfy Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor requirements.

Types of Online Counseling Psychology Master’s Programs

Online counseling psychology master’s programs have different specialization options, and many programs also offer optional supplemental concentrations or advanced certificates. Some specializations found in online counseling psychology master’s programs include:

School Counseling (M.Ed.)

This specialization prepares students for careers as school counselors and leads to certification by state boards of education. Students learn counseling techniques, assessment, and appraisal along with strategies for prevention, intervention, and remediation in the school setting. Most programs require fieldwork.

Guidance and Counseling (M.S. or M.A.)

This specialization is similar (in some cases identical) to a School Counseling M.Ed. However, this specialization is for students who aspire to a career in school counseling but who do not have a teaching certificate.

Adult Continuing Education – Counseling and Psychology (M.S.)

This program gives students a working knowledge of the counseling field. It is not suited for those who wish to pursue a career as a licensed professional counselor right away since these programs typically do not prepare students for licensure. This program is well suited for licensed professional counselors wanting to continue their education in the field.

Counseling Psychology (M.S.)

A program in counseling psychology gives a foundation in psychological science and counseling techniques. It prepares students for careers in marriage and family therapy or professional clinical counseling. These programs often require fieldwork and offer additional options for specialization.

Family Counseling (M.S. or M.A.)

This specialization prepares students for working with families and handling family-based issues. These programs help students understand family dynamics and teach them strategies for helping families make desired changes. Some programs may not prepare students for professional licensure and are best for previously licensed professionals seeking continuing education. Individuals seeking additional knowledge of family counseling or those (such as clergy) exempt from licensure requirements can also benefit from these programs.

Clinical Mental Health Counseling (M.S.)

This specialization gives students a thorough knowledge of counseling techniques, theories, and principles. These programs prepare students for careers in settings such as private practices, hospitals, substance abuse rehabilitation centers, and managed behavioral care organizations. These programs often require fieldwork and offer electives for specialization. Some degrees specialize in rehabilitation counseling.

What You’ll Learn in Counseling Psychology Master’s Programs Online

Master’s in counseling psychology online programs provide a knowledge framework in psychological science and counseling techniques. Students learn strategies for promoting mental health and wellness across diverse populations and situations. A School Counseling M.Ed. prepares students for assessment and crisis intervention in schools. In contrast, a Clinical Mental Health Counseling M.S. prepares students for work in treatment settings. Specialization in family therapy or a Family Counseling M.S. grounds students in family dynamics and family-related issues. Some programs include fieldwork, which is completed alongside a licensed professional, preparing students for professional licensure and certification.

Common Classes in Online Counseling Psychology Master’s Programs

Master’s in counseling psychology online programs offer a variety of courses to prepare students for a career in professional counseling. Coursework depends upon a student’s specialization, and any program requiring fieldwork is often preparing a student for professional certification. Expect all classes to be grounded in psychological science and counseling techniques. Some common courses include:

Human Growth and Development

These courses are grounded in the theory and research of developmental psychology. They guide students through the lifespan of human cognitive development from childhood to adulthood, covering personality development and socialization. Some programs emphasize child development.

Psychopathology

Courses in psychopathology take students through maladaptive development. Students study causes of reactions to social, biological, and psychological stress that lead to anxiety disorders and psychoses. Many classes cover psychopathology in a multicultural, adult, or child-focused setting.

Group Counseling/Family Therapy

Course offerings in group counseling and family therapy give students a foundation in group counseling therapeutic techniques and theories. With a strong focus on interpersonal communication and family dynamics, students develop therapy skills specific to group counseling and family therapy. Students are often virtually coached by staff and given meaningful feedback.

Career Development and Counseling

This course is designed to help students meet professional certification criteria and gain competence in their counseling careers. Many online counseling psychology master’s programs connect students with mentors to guide them on their career paths. Some career development courses include fieldwork.

What Can You Do with a Master’s in Counseling Psychology?

Earning a master’s in counseling psychology online provides several career options, depending on specialization. Some programs include clinical fieldwork in preparation for professional counseling licensure in family therapy or clinical settings. Others prepare students for certification as school counselors. Most programs prepare students for licensure in the state where the university resides, so be sure to contact the program director if you plan to work in a different state. Programs not including fieldwork ground students in the knowledge of the counseling profession, but students will not be ready for professional licensure upon completion. Potential careers for graduates of online counseling psychology master’s programs include:

School Counselor (M.Ed. or M.S.)

School counselors provide counseling services to children and young adults in school settings. They help facilitate optimal development, mental health, and growth in the school population. School counselors learn crisis intervention and culturally relevant and psychologically appropriate counseling techniques for the populations they serve.

Family Therapist/Marriage Counselor

Family therapists and marriage counselors assist couples and families with relational difficulties. They are trained in family dynamics and help patients develop strategies to make desired changes in their lives and relationships. Family therapists and marriage counselors treat a range of issues. Some specialize in a particular relational problem, such as couples dealing with infidelity.

Substance Abuse Treatment Counselor

Substance abuse treatment counselors work with patients to end substance abuse problems. Counselors help patients identify the causes of substance abuse, become aware of any triggers, and develop awareness of negative thought and behavior patterns. Counselors hold one-on-one, couples, and family therapy sessions to get to the root of the addiction. Substance abuse treatment counselors work in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

Crisis Intervention Counselor

Crisis intervention counselors help people in acute distress. They may counsel those wanting to harm themselves or those dealing with a trauma such as rape, a school shooting, or a natural disaster. They work in many settings including telephone call centers, mental health clinics, schools, and humanitarian aid groups.

Managed Behavioral Health Care

Getting a master’s in counseling psychology online prepares students for careers in managed behavioral health care. Managed behavioral health care firms work with employers, health insurance providers, and health care corporations to provide a variety of services. Counselors assist with stress management, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and weight problems. They also identify workplace issues and assist with employee education and supervisor training.

Accreditation for Online Counseling Psychology Master’s Programs

When choosing the right master’s program for you, ensure that it is appropriately accredited. Accreditation tells you that the education program adheres to the accrediting body’s standards and that faculty are adequately credentialed and trained. Counseling programs must apply for and then meet specific requirements to achieve accreditation.

Several organizations offer accreditation for online counseling psychology master’s programs, each with different adherence standards. The two most regarded accreditation bodies are the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC). Two other organizations offering accreditation to specialized counseling programs are the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

FAQs About Earning Your Master’s in Counseling Psychology Online

How long does it take to earn a master’s in counseling psychology online?

The amount of time it takes to complete your master’s in counseling psychology online varies by the program and your time commitment. Full-time students can complete the most rigorous programs within three years. Programs requiring fewer credit hours take one to two years. Part-time students may take five to six years to complete their program. Other factors impacting completion time include in-person requirements such as proctored exams, special projects, and fieldwork with licensed psychotherapists.

What are the admissions requirements for online counseling psychology master’s programs?

Each program has its own admissions requirements, but most share some basics. Admission to an online counseling psychology master’s program generally requires:

  • A bachelor’s degree, often with a minimum GPA of 3.0
  • An official copy of undergraduate transcripts
  • An M.Ed. program may require a teaching concentration or certification
  • An M.S. or M.A. program may require psychology course prerequisites
  • Professional or academic recommendations
  • A resume outlining any relevant professional experience
  • An essay or mission statement
  • An interview with the program director or faculty member

Some programs require applicants undergo background checks and fingerprinting. Most schools have admissions counselors to assist in the process.

Is the GRE required to get into an online counseling psychology master’s program?

Many online counseling psychology master’s programs do not require GRE scores. If you have strong scores, consider submitting your GRE to supplement your application, particularly if your application is sparse in other areas.

How affordable are online counseling psychology master’s degrees?

Accredited schools offer financial aid and scholarships. However, it is essential to research the cost of any program you are considering. Larger state universities offer all online programs but may have higher tuition costs if you live out of state. Universities specializing in online education may seem more expensive up-front but include all the program fees in their projected costs. Admissions or enrollment counselor can create a personalized cost estimate for you. The following cost chart covers a range of online counseling psychology master’s degrees.

School NameNo. of CreditsCost/CreditTotal Tution Cost
Capella University74 total (20 max transfer)$485$35,890
Hodges University60 – 7 semester sessions$8,928.57/session$62,500
North Carolina State University60$462 (NC residents)
$1,311 (non res)
$27,720 (NC res)
$78,660 (non res)

Can I earn my counseling psychology master’s completely online?

Some online counseling psychology master’s programs are entirely online and have no offline or on-campus obligations. Others have specific in-person requirements such as orientation, proctored exams, and fieldwork with licensed therapists and counselors. Research each program’s degree requirements to determine what works best for your individual needs and career goals.

What’s the difference between counseling psychology and clinical psychology?

In medicine, psychology is a relatively young field, with origins at the beginning of the twentieth century. The first practitioners were considered clinical psychologists and focused on psychopathology and the diagnosis of psychoses. In the 1950s, some psychology professionals argued for the importance of focusing on wellness and optimal development with a more holistic approach. This effort gave rise to counseling psychology, focusing on assessment, human relationships, adjustment, and vocational and career counseling.

As the field of professional psychology evolved, the two disciplines increasingly overlapped. Many now offer a master’s in clinical mental health counseling. There is still debate in the psychology community about the logic in keeping the two fields separate. Currently, the setting of care draws the main distinction. Clinical psychologists may work under a psychiatrist’s supervision in a medical environment and deal with patients having more severe pathology or mental illness. Counseling psychologists tend to work with patients with less severe mental issues looking to optimize their well-being.

Does clinical psychology sound like a better choice for you? Check out our guide to online clinical psychology master’s programs .